SBS’s new Monday-Tuesday drama Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim premiered this week, and though veteran actor Han Seok-kyu has top billing, this first episode is really all about our two cheeky apprentices. Together they battle against life and death, irate sunbaes, and mainly each other, as they try to survive the numerous obstacles of working in the ER.
CHAPTER 1: “How to put an elephant in a refrigerator”
In voiceover, a man depicts a bleak medical landscape: “In an era of injustice. An era of inequality. An era full of discontent and distrust. It became an era in which patients were discriminated against.”
During the narration we see a teenage boy desperately begging someone to save his dying father, who has been waiting hours for treatment. Sadly, he never does get the help he needs, and dies there in the ER. Nearby, Dr. DO YOON-WAN (Choi Jin-ho) exits the operating room to inform an assemblyman’s family that the surgery was a success. Enraged, the boy screams at Dr. Do, asserting that his father arrived before the assemblyman and should have been treated first. He rushes forward to attack, but is immediately restrained, as Dr. Do looks on impassively.
Later, the boy returns to the emergency room with a metal bat, and begins wreaking havoc on everything in sight, as payment for the injustice he feels. At that moment, a mysterious man enters the scene, and in an impressive display of dexterity, he disarms the boy using only a scrub shirt. Though we never get a clear shot of his face, we can safely assume this to be BU YONG-JOO (Han Seok-kyu), otherwise known as our titular Teacher Kim.
He pulls out a syringe and swiftly injects the boy with it, then counts down. The next moment, the boy opens his eyes as Teacher Kim treats his various wounds. He tells the boy that venting his frustrations will not satiate his desire for revenge. If he really wants to get revenge on those that caused him pain, he says, he must become a much better human being than those people. “Don’t get revenge with anger, but with skill. Got that? If you don’t change, then nothing will,” he says. Then the doctor disappears into the crowd.
After a few waves of self-doubt, the boy clenches his fists, and walks through the hospital door with a determined look in his eyes. He emerges anew and as an adult in 2011, wearing a white doctor’s coat—this is KANG DONG-JOO (Yoo Yeon-seok).
Elsewhere in the hospital, seasoned ER doctor YOON SEO-JUNG (Seo Hyun-jin) gets the latest on a sassy new genius intern that just showed up. To top it off, word around the block is that this intern pays little regard to seniority, and liberally mouths off to his seniors.
Which is the exact scene Seo-jung walks into, as a sunbae doctor rags on new intern Dong-joo for refusing to make him coffee. Dong-joo fails to see the correlation between making him coffee and being a good doctor. The sunbae asks Dong-joo why he became a doctor and he responds sincerely, “To fix people,” an answer that earns him sneers from the doctors around the room, but a look of interest from Seo-jung, who watches on quietly. Dong-joo then walks out declaring that he will not be anyone’s little errand boy.
Seo-jung attempts to comfort the humiliated sunbae, when suddenly someone shouts that there was an accident at a construction site, and four patients are on their way.
The staff rushes to assess the injuries of the new arrivals, and Dong-joo runs out to join them when a student shouts at him that her mother came first and needs immediate medical attention. Staring at a reflection of his past, he tries to call over Seo-jung, but she’s got her hands full, and brushes him off. When he continues to badger her, insisting that the other patient is also very ill, Seo-jung shouts at him that this patient’s condition is more critical.
She barks at someone to get Dong-joo out of her face, when suddenly a man with a metal rod through his abdomen rolls into the ER. Beside the patient, a paramedic holds a large slab of cement that the rod is attached to, as everyone gasps and crowds around the grisly sight. Oof.
In a surgical room, a senior physician, DR. MOON, operates on another patient. Using a cell phone, Seo-jung updates him on the man with the metal rod. Dr. Moon instructs Seo-jung to do a “FAST” (Focused assessment with sonography for trauma), which will provide a quick ultrasound of the patient, to check for internal bleeding that may be occurring and stabilize his vitals. Dr. Moon intends to take over from there and perform the surgery, once he’s done with his current one.
As Seo-jung and her team prepare the patient for the FAST, in a moment of frankly shocking foolishness, one of the hospital staff bumps into the paramedic holding the concrete and he drops it. Oh no!!! Seo-jung springs forward to grab the rod before it slips out, but it falls to the floor and blood begins gushing out.
As the situation rapidly spirals out of Seo-jung’s control, she is lost in a daze unable to move. Her team shouts at her to get her attention, including a now furious Dr. Moon, but she is still trapped in her own fear, unable to register anything around her. After a few slow-moving beats, she suddenly snaps back into time.
Rattled but ready, Seo-jung finally responds in a shaky voice, and Dr. Moon screams at her to keep this patient alive no matter what for the next ten minutes until he is done with his surgery.
Seo-jung fights off her nerves and jumps back into the fray. With the patient’s blood pressure going out of control, Seo-jung suits up for surgery right then and there. Against the advisement of her team, she cuts right into the patient’s chest with a scalpel, and forces her hand in through the opening.
Dong-joo, who is watching from outside, can’t believe what he is witnessing. She fishes around for several moments until suddenly the wild beeping of the vital machine stops—she’s grabbed an artery! This ballsy move stabilizes the patient’s vitals, and the team lets out a collective sigh of relief.
Even Dr. Moon sounds impressed when he hears what she did to stop the bleeding. Initial crisis averted, they roll the patient to the OR with Seo-jung riding along, her hand still stuck inside the patient’s abdomen, as Dong-joo watches on in awe.
To celebrate, Seo-jung and her co-workers stuff their faces with jajangmyun, and bask in their victory. However, their merriment is cut short by a senior physician, who comes in demanding to know why Seo-jung ignored the patient Dong-joo had pointed out to her earlier.
Seo-jung tries to defend herself by explaining that the woman only had a slight fever, but the senior staffer isn’t convinced. He tells her that the patient has acute respiratory distress syndrome, which occurs when fluid builds up in the air sacs of the lungs, resulting in oxygen deficiency. Additionally, this patient developed pneumonia, which leads to sepsis.
He says Dong-joo’s quick thinking is what saved the patient’s life. To top it off, he heard that Seo-jung ignored Dong-joo’s requests not once but twice, berating her for partying when someone nearly died because of her poor judgment.
Thoroughly reprimanded, Seo-jung heads right over to confront Dong-joo for tattling on her and to put him in his place. She asks for his name, which he gives, but then corrects him—his name is “Intern.” He tries to protest, but she hammers his new name and position on the totem pole into his brain, repeatedly calling him Intern.
She mockingly praises him for saving a person’s life even though he’s just an intern, saying that he must really be ah-mazing. To reward his efforts, she assigns all the most annoying patients to him, which causes those around them to snigger in delight.
Seo-jung follows up with Dong-joo after a particularly long day dealing with a slew of drunken, fussy, and belligerent patients. She asks how things are going, and he acts like it’s no big deal but his face and hair say otherwise. LOL. She smiles widely and says as expected, “You’re on a different level,” then steals his can of coffee from the vending machine.
She isn’t done tormenting him just yet—a little later she calls Dong-joo over to remove several large golf balls stuck up a man’s bum. She asks with a shit-eating grin if he’s eaten, before strolling away and saying that it’s too bad if he has. Okay, yuck.
Left with no other options, Dong-joo begins extracting the objects from the vessel. After the second pop, he manages to dislodge the balls, but it’s accompanied by some projectile excrement. Oh god. Oh god. I’d like to unsee that please.
Post-procedure, Dong-joo heads immediately over to report to Seo-jung covered in crap, and accuses her of picking on him. She feigns ignorance, but he scoffs at her denial. She crosses her arms and asks, “Hey intern, how do you put an elephant in a refrigerator?”
He’s confused by her strange question, so she follows up with an explanation: “The answer is, you tell the intern to do it. Here, interns have to do whatever the hell we tell them to. You can’t discriminate against patients here, and you can’t refuse to see anyone.”
She invites him to leave if he has a problem with the way things work.
But he doesn’t back down, he demands to know what he did that was so wrong. He saved a patient’s life while she was putting on a “performance” grabbing arteries with her hands, he argues. He accuses her of having a big ego, and being thirsty for acknowledgement. He calls her overly dramatic, and she shoots back that he’s a total psycho that thinks he’s hot shit. They both storm off in a huff, and he washes up in an angry snit.
She stomps into the hall, where a line of upper management doctors pass by, including Dr. Moon. She briefly exchanges glances with Dr. Do, who leads the pack; his face is blank when he sees her. Dr. Moon, who walks behind him, also casts her a glance and his expression is soft. Then when he turns away, he smiles to himself.
Alone, Seo-jung muses wistfully that “he” (Does she mean Dr. Do?) never acknowledges her. She then repeats Dong-joo’s accusation of her thirst for acknowledgement and concurs that he’s probably right.
In the cafeteria, Seo-jung sits down in front of Dong-joo who eats alone, immediately stealing his yogurt drink from his tray. He isn’t in the mood to chat, but she inquires about his personal life anyway, wondering why he has no friends and whether he has a girlfriend.
Ready to make peace, she tells Dong-joo that in the ER it isn’t about who arrives first, but who needs help first. She admits that she believed his patient to not need immediate attention, and was in no way purposefully ignoring Dong-joo in order to put on a “performance.”
She leaves after finishing his drink, but then returns to give him a can of coffee as payment for the one she stole previously. Then, she ruffles his hair like the grumpy little puppy he is.
Later, she confesses to a colleague that she admires the way Dong-joo is putting up with all the abuse she throws at him. Back with Dong-joo, another of their colleagues tries to explain Seo-jung’s behavior to him. He clarifies that her giving Dong-joo a hard time is the way she expresses her affection, and her faith in his abilities.
Just then, a patient with a fever comes in complaining of chest pains, and Dong-joo orders an EKG to check on the electrical activity of his heart, but the moment his back is turned, the patient falls into cardiac arrest. Dong-joo commences CPR, and when one of the staff recommends calling Seo-jung, he ignores then. Eventually, she comes over anyway, and guesses the patient might have myocarditis, which would explain the sudden heart attack. She takes over for Dong-joo and relentlessly tries to resuscitate the patient, but nothing she does seems to be working.
As she administers CPR, from the corner of her eye she watches the young family of the patient crying out for their loved one. Determined, she calls for an ECMO, a machine which will prolong the patient’s life by imitating the functions of the heart and lungs.
Her co-workers think she’s crazy, since clearly they don’t have the authority to make that kind of call. They’ll have to wait for a sunbae to free up. One suggests they just keep trying with CPR and if it doesn’t work, then “it can’t be helped.”
Seo-jung takes issue with their indifference, and furiously asks how they would feel if they were the ones dying in a hospital while the doctors trying to save them spoke like that. She vows to take full responsibility and shouts at them to haul ass. But nobody moves, so she turns around to get it herself, but Dong-joo is already there rolling the machine toward her. Oh puppy!
She studies him for a long moment as if seeing him in a different light, then gets to work.
Together they work quickly to connect the ECMO catheters to the patient’s arteries. Seo-jung seems impressed with Dong-joo’s competence as her assistant—handing her tools even before she calls for them—and she sneaks a few glances at him. Their perfect teamwork pays off and the procedure is successful.
Afterwards, Seo-jung explains what occurred to the unconscious patient, who can still hear despite his state, and assures him that he will be all right now. As she speaks, Dong-joo looks on, deeply moved.
The sunbae they were waiting for finally shows up, and after ascertaining that the patient is okay, he calls Seo-jung out for some rebuking (including a totally uncalled for kick to the shin).
He basically repeats all the risks her colleagues had previously laid out for her. But she’s unfazed by his shouting, since everything worked out and the patient survived. The sunbae warns her that she won’t get away with it this time, then leaves. Dong-joo has overheard everything and watches, troubled.
He later finds Seo-jung alone in a storage room, telling herself that she did the right thing as tears run down her face. After a minute, she wipes her tears and readies herself to face the world again, but notices Dong-joo standing near the door. She tries to play it cool, asking him what’s up, but he only wants to apologize to her.
He admits that he realized after watching her today, how lacking he is as a doctor. When faced with the real thing he underperformed, and because of him she ended up getting into trouble. She shakes her head and tells him the same thing she chanted to herself—the patient survived and that’s all that matters.
She tells him not to be scared, and says he did well in assisting her during the procedure. He seems to yearn for her approval, and asks her to confirm that she means it. She smiles and nods, then declares that he’s gotten “one elephant toenail into the door.”
As she moves to leave, he grabs her by the arm and spins her around, and then leans down to kiss her. Rawr.
Seo-jung is as surprised as we are, and asks if he’s crazy, still a bit dazed. He looks her directly in the eyes and asks if it’s not okay for him to be crazy about her.
They kiss again and though she tries once to push him away, he doesn’t let her, and then slowly she yields to the passion of the moment as the warm, orange light surrounds them.
Finally, she breaks away, gathers her senses, then begins to walk off. But before she leaves the room she announces that she’s dating someone, and also, how dare he. Astonished, she leaves him alone, unable to hide how affected she is. He chuckles to himself once she’s gone.
A little later that evening, Dong-joo sees Seo-jung waiting outside for her ride, and joins her. She decrees their kiss to be an accident, blaming the intense emotional ordeal of the day. But he doesn’t play along, and goes on to explain that he probably fell for her that day she grabbed the artery and rolled to the OR with a man’s life literally between her fingertips.
She tries to tell him again that she’s already with someone, but he just bulldozes ahead sincerely, declaring that he wants to date her and sleep with her. Hey buddy, simmer down. That kiss was hot and all, but you’re moving too fast.
She’s rightfully aghast by his declarations and stares at him gobsmacked. Forgivingly, Dr. Moon (her ride) rolls by at that exact moment and honks his horn. Seo-jung tells Dong-joo that Dr. Moon is the man she’s in a serious relationship with. And with that she leaves, as his unrealized feelings are left hanging in the air.
Dr. Moon drives in the rain until they reach a stoplight, and he picks up Seo-jung’s finger, worshipping it for grabbing that artery. He then pulls out a diamond ring and slides it on that same index finger, suggesting that they marry after she finishes her residency.
Then, without appearing to hear her answer, he makes a turn right into the path of a large truck barreling towards them. Noooooo!
Back at the hospital, Dong-joo receives word of Seo-jung’s accident. Soon after, an unconscious Seo-jung is rolled into the ER on a stretcher with Dr. Moon in tow, who is clutching his head but walking. He immediately begins firing off instructions for her treatment.
The nurse that prepares Seo-jung notices the ring on her index finger, and a strange look crosses her face as her eyes travel over to Dr. Moon, who is turned away.
The ultrasound shows some bleeding in Seo-jung’s peritoneal cavity, so Dr. Moon decides to do the surgery on her himself, a statement that causes Dong-joo to pause. He stands up and glares at Dr. Moon, asking if he drank before driving tonight. Dr. Moon’s hesitation says it all and Dong-joo rejects him as Seo-jung’s surgeon, vowing to find someone else.
Dong-joo takes Seo-jung away for a CT scan when she regains consciousness. Straightaway she inquires after Dr. Moon, much to Dong-joo’s annoyance. Dong-joo insists Dr. Moon is fine, but Seo-jung demands that Dong-joo go down and check on him because he hit his head hard during the accident. He tries to protest, but Seo-jung is adamant and begs him to go check on Dr. Moon, breaking Dong-joo’s heart in the process.
He heads downstairs, and spots Dr. Moon speaking with that same nurse in the stairwell. Though we can’t hear what is being said, their body language suggests some sort of disagreement.
When they leave, Dong-joo is there waiting to confront Dr. Moon and asks what is going on. Dr. Moon deflects his question and asks after Seo-jung’s condition, but Dong-joo just walks away with a disgusted look on his face.
As he makes his dramatic exit, Dr. Moon suddenly falls to the ground behind him, and Dong-joo realizes he’s made a big mistake. Soon after, Dr. Moon dies of brain hemorrhaging, and the hospital staff attends his funeral.
Later, Dong-joo goes to check on Seo-jung, but she’s disappeared from her room.
We find her hiking through the woods with her broken arm in a sling, thinking back to Dr. Moon’s proposal. He had asked why she didn’t seem excited. She admitted that someone confessed to her today, and worse, she felt swayed by it. Those ended up being the last words she ever said to him. Tormented by the memory, she trips and falls down a hill, injuring her ankle in the process. It’s then that her grief and guilt hit her full force, and she breaks down sobbing all alone.
Night falls, and a man hikes through the dark woods when he spies Seo-jung’s flashlight in the distance. He finds her passed out on the ground and promptly starts feeling around to check for injuries and she yelps once he squeezes her ankle. He moves to realign her dislocated ankle when she works up the nerve to shine a light on his face. It’s Teacher Kim, whose face we see clearly for the first time.
After counting down, Teacher Kim forces her ankle back into place and Seo-jung passes out from the pain. Sighing to himself, he hoists her onto his back and takes her down the mountain.
Any drama that manages to entice Han Seok-kyu is bound to have sky high expectations. Throw in Yoo Yeon-seok and Seo Hyun-jin and it’s enough for people (like me) to start frothing at the mouth. It’s too early to see if it lives up to the hype, and does justice to the talent of its cast, but I’d say this was a very good opener. I was hoping to get more than a glimpse of our titular Teacher Kim, but it was equally important to spend this quality time with our two puppies, so I’m happy to wait until Episode 2. Looking back, I think that decision actually worked out well, since it really heightened the mystery surrounding the character. The music they chose for Teacher Kim as he was walking around in the forest was so cute. Love it!
I found it very interesting how the opening scenes set Dong-joo up in the classic hero/underdog role, but then handed this episode off to Seo-jung, who absolutely ran away with it. Yoo Yeon-seok did well enough, I mean that kiss scene was fantastic, but Seo Hyun-jin really brings so much more life and love to Seo-jung. It’s clear that she’ll be the beating heart of our story.
Speaking of the kiss scene…it came out of nowhere! Not that I’m complaining, because I definitely watched it a few (many) times. You can feel a palpable attraction between the two characters that pretty much exploded in that room. I looove the way the camera played with the lighting in those shots; everything about it was so well executed. There was this deep sense of warmth that radiated from every angle. Dong-joo was being a tiny bit too forceful, but at no moment did I feel unsafe for Seo-jung.
Now, that follow-up scene, however, the part when he was talking about sleeping with her and what not—that skeeved me out. Yoo Yeon-seok delivered it in such an earnest way that I fully believed this was the character’s way of expressing his overwhelming feelings for her, and just kind of mucking it all up, but how do you go from talking about falling crazy in love with her, then jumping right to begging for sex? Worse, she already turned him down several times by then, so it came off a little obtuse. Fingers-crossed that they don’t ruin this!
Regarding the pacing, those last fifteen-to-twenty minutes really kicked everything into high gear. I practically had to catch my breath by the end of it. It contrasted sharply with the pace of the rest of the episode, which was a little more amble overall. It felt as if the moment Dong-joo decided to make his move, everything hit the fan. But, I think overall, the pace of the show will probably reflect the earlier part of this episode, which is preferable.
Not to be blithe about Dr. Moon’s death, but I have to say that was probably the fastest I’ve ever seen a show eliminate a love rival. I’m sure the lingering effects of his death will be profound and widespread, but I expected to see him hang around a little bit longer. If anything, it will intensify the paralyzing fear Seo-jung feels from time to time, and ultimately help her heal.
Based on how things were unfolding, I don’t think that Dr. Moon was actually cheating on Seo-jung. The way his character is portrayed doesn’t really lend itself to that theory completely. There’s a sincerity in this character that comes through. Especially because I’ve seen this actor play some pretty giant assholes before, so I know he’s totally capable of getting that across, but with Dr. Moon there’s a sweetness there. That said, I think it’s important to our story that Dong-joo thinks Dr. Moon is a big fat, drunken cheater, so that he can justify his interference in their tragic love story.
All in all, a strong episode with so much potential for the future. I can’t wait!